ND football films burst with tradition
By JILLIAN DEPAUL
Scene Movie Critic
There is no doubt that at one time or another, all Notre Dame students have stopped to think how a college experience at Notre Dame is unique compared to one at any other school in the nation. Of course, no matter which school anyone chooses to attend, his or her experience will be different. But by choosing to attend Notre Dame, one chooses a path that is different in a very distinct way.
This is not to say that the Notre Dame experience is better than other college experiences by any means; it is merely unique. For example, how many colleges are the second biggest tourist attraction in their respective states? At how many schools do hundreds of thousands of people descend on campus during six or seven weekends in the fall, making the students feel like the main attraction at a zoo? It may seem ridiculous to some on the outside looking in, but anyone who has spent a Saturday afternoon in autumn on the Notre Dame campus must admit it is not difficult to get caught up in the Notre Dame tradition.
Although the tradition of Notre Dame encompasses all facets of the University, a large part of Notre Dame's storied history is attributed to football, since it is the main reason for the high profile of the school. Notre Dame has been heralded as a place of hard work and an exemplary moral standard, and consequently, as a place where dreams come true.
Out of the abundance of Cinderella-success stories associated with Notre Dame, two were made into popular American films: "Knute Rockne, All American" in 1940 and, more recently, "Rudy" in 1993. These films are glorifications of the tradition and history of Notre Dame and are an indelible part of its culture.
"Knute Rockne, All American," directed by Lloyd Bacon, tells the story of the original Notre Dame legend, Knute Rockne, who emigrated from Sweden with his family when he was a small child, and lived out the American dream in the "land of opportunity." He worked hard for his chance at an education, and finally was able to matriculate at Notre Dame.
Rockne was a talented man, both on the field and off. After he graduated from Notre Dame, he was faced with the difficult choice between pursuing a career as a scientist or following his passion for coaching football. If you know anything about Knute Rockne, then it is not hard to guess which one he chose. Rockne was a man whose primary values were heart and spirit, and because of this, he was a great coach and an inspiration to his teams.
Watching this movie is bizarre because, for decades, Notre Dame has been a perennial powerhouse in the game of football; therefore it is hard to see the Notre Dame football team as an underdog. But there actually was a time, before Rockne revolutionized the game of football and established the Irish football team as the dominating force in collegiate athletics, when the Notre Dame football team was a humble bunch of Irish guys with nothing but the will to win.
As outdated as this movie may seem at times, it has its moments of undeniable relevance to the current season and to every season. There is the famous speech delivered by George Gipp (former-President Ronald Reagan in probably his best known role) on his deathbed: "Someday, Rock, when the team is up against it … tell them to win just one for the Gipper."
During this disheartening season of Notre Dame football, the moment in this movie that stands out the most comes after Rockne's team loses to Army, breaking its 16-game winning streak. The student body still meets the team at the train station, with the fight song in the air and pride in the students' eyes. This is a reminder that the Notre Dame spirit is not governed by the win-loss column of the football team, but by the integrity of the student body.
A more updated look at the Notre Dame football culture is "Rudy," the 1993 film directed by David Anspaugh, about Daniel Ruettiger, a.k.a. Rudy, a "five-foot-nothing, a-hundred-and-nothing" scrub football player with the impossible dream to play for Notre Dame.
Through amazing determination against all odds, Rudy gets in for the final play of the final game of his senior year, sacks the opposing quarterback and is carried off the field by his teammates. (The real Rudy actually played two plays from scrimmage and got his sack on the second, but the movie takes poetic license with this and a few other aspects of reality.)
It is rare to see a stack of movies in a Notre Dame dorm room that lacks "Rudy." The movie is an alternate version of the typical Cinderella story. Instead of a team being the Cinderella, the player is, and the goal is not winning, but merely being a part of a program with such an illustrious history.
"Rudy" is a modern day fairy tale to which everyone can relate because it is about following dreams through adversity and never giving up. For many people on this campus, coming to school at Notre Dame is a dream come true. Honestly, who hasn't felt a little bit like Rudy when he walks on God Quad, with that awed, kid-in-a-candy-store look on his face, and gets his first glimpse of life under the Dome?
There has been some talk as of late about true fans, what they are and whether or not they exist on this campus. After the last game against Michigan State, where there wasn't a tremendous showing of integrity and pride in the student section, some skeptics may argue that the magic of Notre Dame football is lost this season. But the fact that dreams do still come true at Notre Dame, both on and off the field, shows that the magic is still alive and is much more than just a fairy tale.
All Scene Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999